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Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Man Behind the Blood – The Story of Vlad the Impaler

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Early Life

Vlad III, son of Vlad Dracul meaning Dragon, was given the nickname Dracula, or Son of the Dragon, the Impaler for his gruesome and sadistic way of executing Ottomans, as well as Dracula, the titular character of Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name that is afflicted by vampirism. He was a voivode or prince of the principality Wallachia that was under rule by the Kingdom of Hungary but was acquired as a suzerainty for the Ottoman Empire that lasted until the 19th century with in between times being occupied by Russia.

When he was young, the sultan demanded him and his younger brother Radu to be given as political prisoners to secure their fathers loyalty beginning from 1442. Ottoman Empire chronicles state that they were imprisoned in the fortress of Egrigoz, as part of the agreement to their fathers loyalty because he had not supported Ottoman invasion of Wallachia, and with him supporting Vladislaus that was the King of Poland and Hungary with the Crusade of Varna of 1444, he had presumed them dead for his defiance. Yet, this was not the case – they were neither harmed nor mutilated as it was speculated, and with Vlad Dracul once more pledging allegiance to the sultan and his suzerainty, began paying the jizya, or the non-Muslim tax as a yearly tax from 1446 to 1447.  He was murdered along his eldest son Mircea, assassinated by John Hunyadi who was the regent-governor of the King of Hungary in 1447, and gave the governance to Vlad Dracul’s cousin’s son Vladislav II as a voivode.

Vlad’s father, Vlad Dracul

Acquiring His Title

As a potential claimant for the voivodeship of Wallachia, Vlad III at the head of an Ottoman army marched into the suzerainty. He had to come to terms that the Ottoman Empire had captured the fortress of Giurgiu and strengthened it, and as John Hunyadi’s army was defeated somewhere between 17 and 18 October at the Battle of Kosovo versus the Ottoman Empire, what was left of Vladislav’s army returned to Wallachia.

Vlad III was forced to flee back to the Ottoman Empire before December 8, 1448. Settling in Edirne, he had moved to Moldavia where Bogdan II was part of his extended family and was installed as a ruler with the help of John Hunyadi in the autumn of 1449. But after his assassination at the hands of Peter III Aaron in October 1451, Bogdan’s son Stephen alongside Vlad III fled to Transylvania and sought assistance from John Hunyadi himself, who had concluded a three year peace treaty with the Ottomans on November 20, 1451.

Hunyadi had come to terms, which allowed the Wallachian Boyars to elect a successor if Vladislav II were to perish, yet denied Vlad III to settle down in Brasov and forbade the burghers with providing them shelter on February 6, 1452, thus forcing Vlad III to once more return to Moldavia. There he found that Alexandrel had deposed Peter III Aaron and forced him to seek exile in the Kingdom of Poland. Sources are unknown as to what transpired during this time with the life of Vlad III, yet it is known that he had returned to Hungary by July 3, 1456, as Hunyadi informed the people of Brasov that he had tasked Vlad of defending the Transylvanian border line.

Vlad had returned once more to Wallachia, this time with the help of the Hungarian army to wrest control from the Ottomans in the summer of 1456, and officially became the voivode of Wallachia. In September with a letter to the burghers of Brasov, he had addressed his subjects that he would protect them in case the Ottomans retaliated with an invasion. But he sought their assistance in doing so, as he noted “When a man or a prince is strong and powerful he can make peace as he wants to; but when he is weak, a stronger one will come and do what he wants to him”.

The Beginning of His Rule and Conflict With the Sultan

With the newly acquired power, Vlad began a purge of citizens as well as boyars whom he accused of conspiring for the murder of his father and elder brother, or just anyone whom he had suspected of trying to deceive him. So, with acquiring the lands, goods, trades and money from the people he purged, he allowed himself a firm and loyal entourage. With the death of John Hunyadi, his son Ladislaus became captain general of Hungary, who accused Vlad of no longer remaining loyal to the crown of the Kingdom of Hungary, and urged the burghers of Brasov to support Vladislav’s II son, Dan III. Yet it seems the burghers supported another pretender to the throne – the illegitimate brother of Vlad III, Vlad the Monk who took possession of the town Amlas, which was customarily ruled by the voivodeship of Wallachia. Ladislaus V of Hungary had executed Ladislaus Hunyadi on March 16, 1457 and stirred a revolt begun by his mother Elizabeth alongside her brother Michael Szylagyi, and spurred the kingdom into civil war, which Vlad III used to his advantage and helped Stephen III to seize Moldavia in June 1457. With that, he also begun to raid and pillage the Saxon villages around Brasov and Sibiu, with records telling that he had men, women and children impaled, sparking the first accounts of his cruelty in reign. Forging a peace with Michael Szylagyi had allowed Vlad III to cease the hostilities he had towards the Saxons to a degree, yet deteriorated quickly as he forced the Saxon merchants to trade at the border with the Wallachian ones. He styled himself as the sole ruler of all Wallachia, prompting unrest among the Saxons.

Battles Against Mehmed

He managed to defeat and execute Dan III, who marched with an army against him in April 22 1460, and promptly began purging and executing the Saxons, which assisted Dan III by impaling and burning them alive. His war against the Ottomans began when according to records of the Serbian jannisary Konstantin Mihailovich, Vlad III had not paid tribute for more than three years, and defied the suzerainty of sultan Mehmed II, who ordered that Vlad III should be captured and brought to Istanbul before him. The spies, which ordered to do so were captured by Vlad III, and promptly impaled before having their noses cut off.

The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II

He began raiding Ottoman territories and began purging them of Turkish residence in his gruesome style. He had informed the King of Hungary Matthias Corvinus, who was the son of John Hunyadi in a letter sent to him on February 11, 1462 that some 24.000 Turks and Bulgars had been impaled. As he asked for military assistance for preserving Christianity in the name of the Crown of the Kingdom of Hungary, sultan Mehmet II raised and army of 150.000 strong and marched them to Wallachia to install Vlad’s brother Radu as the voivode.

The Battle with Torches

At the night of the fabled Battle of Targoviste, Vlad had attempted to capture the sultan alive; yet his army burned the wrong tents and sent the Ottoman army from then on out to fear the nights in Wallachian territory. Mehmet managed to capture the city of Targoviste, only to find it deserted, filled with impaled Turks. That horrified the Ottomans so much because the city was filled with countless men, women, and children, even infants, while the crows began to feast on the carcasses. His brother Radu had remained as the main Ottoman army had retreated for a time, and even though Vlad managed to defeat him a couple of times, more Wallachians began deserting towards Radu’s side.

All the while this was happening, Matthias had Vlad captured as he did not intent on going to war with the Ottoman Empire, and imprisoned him for fourteen years. Stephen III of Moldavia had sent envoys asking for Vlad to be released, and according to the Slavic legend, was set free after he converted to Christianity. Then he returned to Transylvania in 1475, yet with no military support from the Kingdom of Hungary to regain his throne. By order of the king, alongside Vuk Grgurevich he began fighting the Ottomans in Bosnia, and captured the fortress of Srebrenica. It is noted that Vlad’s Moldavian retinue were massacred by Basarab Laiota who was to be installed by sultan Mehmet II as the ruler of Wallachia. With this ended the infamous reigns of Vlad the Impaler, who by his force and brutality had managed to carve his bloody place in the annals of history.

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